Ever since I finished Lost Connections by Johann Hari, I’ve found myself bringing it up in conversations over and over again. To me, that signals just how socially relevant and impactful the book is. I’ve been able to connect it to everything, from discussions I’ve seen emerging in other books to problems my friends have been having.
The paperback version of the book’s cover is a little misleading – it’s subtitled ‘why you’re depressed, and how to find hope.’ But you don’t need to have been diagnosed with depression to read this book. In fact, I think everyone should read it. You can tell that it’s the result of an author’s unyielding dedication; Hari has devoted half his life to investigating the myriad of factors involved in depression, which afflicts so many of us. In fact, it is estimated that in the past week, 1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem.
The main gist of Lost Connections is this: depression and anxiety are (at least, in part) an epidemic of our culture, developed through our misguided values (mainly, individualism and materialism). Hari manages to blend the scientific and the emotional together in a way that makes perfect sense. He cites numerous psychological studies to build his case, as well as real-life examples which are both heart-breaking and heart-warming. In particular, the story of Kotti and Co. stayed with me. Brought together by rising rent prices, a community of protestors in Berlin became a family. Through rain and shine, they protected each other from the bailiffs and shared coffee. Numerous sub-groups who wouldn’t have ordinarily mixed exchanged stories and gained a sense of empathy for each other. It turned out that a meaningful cause, combined with a sense of belonging to a protective community, helped to heal many members of the cooperative with mental health difficulties. This story beautifully illustrates the social impact of community.
Unfortunately, Western society thrives on the idea of the individual. Not only do we view success as intensely personal (earning money, being promoted, etc.) but we live our lives in a far more enclosed way. The way we define ‘home’ has gone from describing entire communities or tribes to delineating the four walls we eat, sleep, and consume media in.
The other most enduring point in this book is that our drive for materialism is essentially hollow. The main pleasure we get from a purchase, particularly an extravagant one, is in the anticipation. The rush of bringing home an expensive item of clothing or showing off a purchase which might denote status (for example, a new car) wears off quickly and ultimately leaves us wanting more. The pursuit of material items is, in itself, an individualistic way of thinking.
Hari isn’t advocating that we shun all material possessions and go and live in a yurt. He is merely suggesting that we begin to practice more empathetic and collectivist ways of thinking. It isn’t a quick fix cure for depression – nothing is. Instead, it’s a call to arms for a shift in our cultural values. A society-wide transition to Johann Hari’s way of thinking would be beneficial in an unfathomable range of ways and can’t come soon enough.